BY TROY FUSS
PRISON DESIGN St. Lou
IS IT TIME TO THROW AWAY THE KEY TO PRISON ARCHITECTURE?
San Francisco-based architect Raphael Sperry his idea is idealistic and unrealistic, these are mark, he since has set the bar higher: He hopes
has an unusual mandate for designers: He points he takes in stride. to gather as many signatures as there are
wants to put a stop to building new facilities, “I don’t expect that the architects who people designing prisons, a number he believes
prisons to be exact. Sperry is the current pres- design prisons are going to stop,” Sperry is somewhere between 500 and 2,000.
ident of the Architects/Designers/Planners for admits.“I do think that they’re going to run out Prindle said he sees no future for Sperry’s
Social Responsibility (ADPSR), which was estab- of work, because we are going stop building movement if it continues in the same direction.
lished in 1981 with the mission of promoting prisons, so I think they would be well advised “I admire him. I think he’s a very conscien-
environmental protection, social justice and to start making transition plans.” tious, educated guy; he certainly has passion
Others believe Sperry could be behind it,” Prindle says. “I see a little of myself
taking a different tack. Bill Prindle, 20 years ago in him. He’s raising a great subject
senior vice president and director of that needs to be aired in the public realm and
the justice division of HOK, suggests can get more discussion, but I think the target
that Sperry may be taking the is ineffective in the long run.We’re not going to
wrong approach. HOK, which has build ourselves out of crime and delinquency
been involved in a number of prison issues, those are really societal issues that have
projects, does not see the building to be taken care of on the neighborhood level
trend stopping any time soon. under a broad public policy.”
“Where Raphael and I differ,” Prindle Michael Fuller, a project manager and senior
explains, “is that I think the targets associate at HOK, is unapologetic about the
are the public policy makers; it’s really firm’s projects. In his opinion, it is more about
an issue of public policy rather than improving facilities than simply refusing to
bricks and mortar. I think his target is build more.
off, but I think his intent is admirable. “HOK is really looking for innovative ways to
Santa Ana Police Department, HOK. I think he’s raising some really good deal with the issues that arise out of the kinds
points that ought to be part of a of populations we find in prisons now, which
similar issues. In 2003, he also organized the broader discussion on crime and delinquency is where a lot of the difficulties are arising, not
Prison Design Boycott Campaign to encourage in the United States. But I think his target, as just in the numbers of people going to prison,
architects to quit building prisons. in other architects, is probably misplaced. It but also the kinds of people we're trying to
Even in the politically charged San Francisco would be more effective going after public detain,” Fuller explains. “There are a huge
climate, there is the problem of getting people policy matters.” number of sex offenders now, for example,
to sign on to Sperry’s ideas. Elsewhere, like But Sperry isn’t limiting his supporters to that require relatively minimal security;
Los Angeles, where architects have a reputation architects. He started the anti-prison building they're not particularly violent offenders, but
for largely staying away from political issues, movement with a reasonable goal of just 500 they're also prey to other prison populations.
that problem is magnified. Undeterred, the signatories, and he reached out to anyone who So there has been some effort to look at alter- Photography by Christopher Frawley.
thirtysomething Sperry is passionate about would listen. Ultimately, Sperry is keeping his native ways of providing detention facilities
his prison perspective, and though some say goals realistic. Though he has hit his initial for that population.”
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Continued from page 62
He continues, “You want to create environ- omniscience. Consisting of 21 letters to a friend,
ments that encourage good behavior. And Bentham’s manuscript begins with these
there are things that we design into buildings powerful words: “Morals reformed - health
to do that. For example, in many cases it’s preserved - industry invigorated - instruction
4th Avenue Jail, Maricopa County, HOK.
required that you have direct supervision. diffused - public burthens lightened - Economy
Sometimes you can have remote supervision, seated, as it were, upon a rock - the gordian
but in most cases you have to have direct knot of the Poor-Laws are not cut, but untied -
supervision, so you also want to look at ways all by a simple idea in Architecture!”
that you can efficiently plan a facility so that It can be argued that no simple idea in
you don't have to have a separate supervisor architecture has yet to deliver all of Bentham’s
for every type of detainee—you have visual promises. But one thing is for certain, no
and audio separation so that a single person amount of discourse—or advancements in
can monitor several of the groups from a architectural design—has preempted the
central location.” crime rate or correlating prison population. In
Among other architects, Sperry finds more fact, according to the Justice Department’s
common ground. Beverly Prior of Beverly Prior Bureau of Justice Statistics, the U.S. prison
Architects and the Academy of Architecture for population has risen more than 600 percent
Justice may not have signed Sperry’s petition, since 1977. At the end of 2004, there were 2.3
but she does see it as a valid conversation. million persons, approximately 1.9 percent of
“When I first shared this with people at the the population, behind bars, and the numbers
American Institute of Architects (AIA), there only seem to be on the increase.
were some people on the committee who As such, Sperry realizes that discontinuing
didn’t think I should touch it,” she says. prison construction is not imminent. He does,
“‘There’s no way you should be part of a dis- however, carry a larger directive.
cussion like this; we need to ignore it, not “Our message of the prison boycott is
give him any energy,’ they said. There were usually perceived as very negative,” Sperry says.
Photography by Christopher Frawley.
others, me being one, saying that it’s healthy “There is a correspondent component to our
to have this kind of conversation—we should message of doing community development
be participating in this.” as a way to achieve a higher level of public
She was not alone. In September 2005, the safety that is impossible with prisons as well
AIA found the issue important enough to have as other important goals. The idea is that
Frank J. Greene, a principal of New York’s Ricci- people commit crime a lot out of desperation
Greene Associates and the co-chair of the and out of lack of different opportunities, and
AIA/NY Chapter Committee on Architecture for we have a lot of communities that fail their
Justice and member of the Steering Committee residents because they leave them without that’s what architects overall want. Saying
of the National AIA Academy of Architecture for hope and without opportunity, and it would “no” to prisons is a very important part of that.
Justice, issue a response to Sperry’s proposal. take a major national program to build a Saying we’re going to make prettier prisons, it’s
“America may not need more prisons,” resurgence of those communities.” not part of that. It’s neither here nor there.”
Greene wrote, “but it desperately needs better “And we’d like architects, designers and HOK’s Fuller maintains that it’s not a design
ones. The differences between a state-of-the- planners to be engaged in that. I think building question that is going away. “I think that from
art correctional facility and ones built before prisons detracts from the opportunity to do the point of view of a bigger picture, we would
1970 are enormous. Old jails and prisons … that, not only because prisons are really argue that it's not just a matter of, ‘Do you
were at best warehouses and at worst factories expensive and there’s a limited construction build more or less?’ but how do you build
for producing hardened criminals. New budget, but also because the mentality that facilities that are responsive to the kinds of
direct-supervision, program-intensive facilities licenses the world’s largest per capita prison crimes and populations we are finding. It
are safe for inmates and staff, humane in population is incapable of envisioning these would suggest to me that it's not necessarily
their treatment of the incarcerated, and less kinds of safe, prosperous, contented communi- an issue of building more, but building the
expensive to operate.” ties for everybody. We need to do work to right kind of facilities.” He also concedes that
Of course, prison design is a longstanding change the mentality to one where people look an architect’s role ends with the punchlist.
issue of debate. As early as 1791 British philoso- out for their neighbors and want everybody to “Once we build the facility, it's out of our hands.
pher Jeremy Bentham offered Panopticon or succeed and are engaging in projects together, But there's a tremendous amount we can do
The Inspection-House an “idea of a new princi- making our country and our world a more during the planning and the design to encour-
ple of construction” rooted in the notion of sustainable, prosperous, beautiful place. I think age those kinds of good environments.”
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